After yet another start in which he was burned by the home-run ball, Marco Estrada’s spot in Milwaukee’s rotation may be in jeopardy.
Estrada gave up his major-league leading 19th and 20th home runs of the season, as the New York Mets scored six runs on just five hits in a 6-2 victory over the Brewers at Citi Field.
A two-run home run by Daniel Murphy got the Mets on the board in the third inning, but the big blow came in the sixth. Estrada walked the bases loaded and then served up a grand slam to Mets catcher Taylor Teagarden.
"I don’t know. We’ll have to talk about it." Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said when asked how strong Estrada’s hold on a rotation spot was. "But it is concerning, because when this guy is right and he’s aggressive, I know what he can do. This is a really good major-league pitcher, and he’s not pitching like that."
Since a run of five quality starts in a row from April 10 to May 1, Estrada has a 5.83 ERA over his last seven starts. The right-hander walked four or more batters in just two starts all of last season and has issued 11 free passes over his last three outings.
After the Mets scored all six of their runs on round trippers Tuesday, 30 of the 40 earned runs allowed by Estrada this season have come via the home run. The 20 home runs already hit off Estrada are more than he has given up in any of his three previous seasons in the big leagues.
"I don’t understand why I’m walking so many guys now," Estrada said. "I’ve got to figure this out because it’s getting out of hand."
The walks really came back to bite Estrada in the sixth, as two of the three came on 3-2 pitches. Fresh up from Triple-A and in his first game with the Mets, Teagarden hit a 1-2 fastball out for his first big-league home run since June 22 of last year.
Obviously frustrated, Estrada put his hands on his head after watching the grand slam fly out of the park.
"It was more, ‘What the hell am I doing? Why did I just throw that guy three straight fastballs?’ " Estrada said. "We went over the scouting report, I knew what I had to do and I didn’t do it. I kept throwing fastballs for some reason. I think if I throw a good changeup there he might roll over or swing and miss. I’ve got to stick with my guns, my best pitch, and with bases loaded and two outs I didn’t do it. I kept throwing fastballs."
If the Brewers do decide to make a change to their rotation, right-hander Jimmy Nelson seems to be the obvious choice. Nelson is 7-1 with a 1.51 ERA for Triple-A Nashville and has made one start for Milwaukee this season.
Mike Fiers, who pitched a scoreless seventh inning, is stretched out to start and could jump into the rotation if called upon.
The ideal situation for the Brewers would be to get Estrada back on track, as the right-hander has proven to be a more than capable starting pitcher in the big leagues when things are going well. He’s long been plagued by allowing home runs, but the walks have recently turned solo shots into three-run home runs and grand slams.
"It’s concerning because I know this guy is a guy that doesn’t walk people," Roenicke said. "He walked the first guy, and Murphy comes up and hits the homer. Then he walks three guys and we get the homer. Marco’s a guy that if he walks one guy a game, that’s usually what he does. And we need to have that from him.
"They’re not that much of a concern if they’re solo home runs. But all their runs were scored on homers. Six runs on two homers, and four hits? Those numbers don’t add up real well."
With his next start scheduled for Sunday against the Reds at Miller Park, Estrada is searching for a way to regain the command that has been his calling card since arriving in the big leagues.
"I’ve been feeling better lately, and it just seems like one pitch gets away from me, and I get hurt," Estrada said. "I have been walking people a lot more than normal, but I don’t feel like I’m off by much. It’s starting to come to me. I feel like I’m starting to locate better. But obviously today it didn’t show. I walked four guys.
"I don’t know what it is. I can’t explain it, but I’ve got to figure it out because obviously I can’t walk anybody. I’ve been getting hurt by those. It seems like I have quick innings, I walk a batter or two, make a mistake and then it gets hit a long ways."